New, old combine to send Cats on title path

Photos by Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough hugged Bennett Schmitt after the conclusion of the freshman’s No. 3 singles match win during the team’s semistate match against Evansville Memorial on Saturday at Jasper. Schmitt’s 6-2, 6-2 victory in the Wildcats’ 4-1 defeat of the Tigers clinched a 12th state finals appearance. For more photos from the match, click here.



JASPER — When Bennett Schmitt saw his Jasper boys tennis teammates slowly move down the bleachers toward the fence surrounding his court, he had a feeling something special was about to happen.

“I saw the guys start to get closer and closer to the court, and I thought, ‘Oh, boy, I have to win now,’” Schmitt said with a laugh.

And immediately after the final point in his 6-2, 6-2 No. 3 singles victory clinched a 12th semistate title and state finals appearance for the No. 16 Wildcats, Schmitt was smothered before he was even able to soak in what was going on.

“It still feels a little like a dream. I think I’m still shaking from excitement,” Schmitt said. “Immediately after the point ended it got kind of quiet for a minute, but then all the guys just rushed out there and jumped on me, it was really awesome to be a part of that.”

The 4-1 victory over Evansville Memorial on Saturday at Jasper marks the return to the state finals for the Wildcats (18-3) — after a string of five straight appearances from 2011-15 was ended last year in a 5-0 semistate loss to Bloomington South.

Before the match, Schmitt caught a ride to the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex from teammate Eli Franks.
Franks, who had played in two semistate matches prior to winning the No. 2 singles bout three sets on Saturday, knew Schmitt might be a little nervous heading into his first career semistate battle. So Franks gave Schmitt a few odds and ends to calm his nerves — a stress ball and a coloring book. However, only one of those was of use to Schmitt.

“I usually just jump around before matches to relieve nerves, but the stress ball really came in handy during pre-match introduction. I didn’t really use the coloring book, though,” Schmitt said with a grin. “Once I started playing and hitting my shots, the stress started to go away. I knew if I just calmed down and played my game, I knew I could win.”

On the doubles side, Jasper started out fast. The No. 1 doubles tandem of Noah Luebbehusen and Noah Mendel opened with what Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough called “the best set they played all year” on its way to a 6-0, 6-4 win.

And while a higher stage such as semistate may throw off some athletes, it’s what the Noahs look forward to all year — especially getting to play in front of their home crowd.

“When all of these people are here to cheer us on, it’s what you want. It’s what we live for,” Luebbehusen said.
“The better the competition is, the better we seem to play,” Mendel added. “I also feel like the crowd helps to make us more active, which in turn makes us play better.”

Jasper’s Eli Franks, who won at the No. 2 singles spot, is the only Wildcat to have played in a state match. For more photos from the match, click here.

After their match ended, Luebbehusen and Mendel refilled their water jugs and quickly went to cheer on their teammates still playing.

While watching their friends play is usually pretty easy-going, the two said it became stressful at times in a match with as high of stakes as Saturday’s had.

“It is a little bit difficult, but after the first set we just decided that we were going to do what we do and just finish our job,” Luebbehusen said. “As soon as we finished our match, we went to watch Bennett go take care of business. It was his first time out there in this big of a match, and the little freshman did well, real well.”

After Schmitt’s teammates had finished mobbing him, Yarbrough smiled at the first-year varsity player and gave him a big hug as cheers rang out from those in attendance. Yarbrough said he was proud of all Schmitt has accomplished this season and hopes Saturday’s match will instill confidence in him for his remaining three seasons with the Wildcats.

“(Schmitt) has fought having confidence in himself this season, and today he just came through with a nice game plan and stuck with it,” Yarbrough said. “I really hope that a match like this can vault his career. I’m not saying it’s going to guarantee he’s going to go out there and get a win at state next weekend, but I think it leads him to believe in himself more.

“It’s matches like this that kids will remember for a long time. They’re especially special when you can be the third and deciding point.”

While Franks is the only probable starter who has played in a state match — participating at No. 1 doubles with Henry Love in the team’s 2015 loss to Park Tudor — guys like Luebbehusen and Mendel have experienced the intensity and excitement that a state finals match can bring and are excited to participate for the first time.

“The atmosphere is great at those matches,” Mendel said. “We know what to expect, we just need to go out there and have as much fun as we can.”

The Wildcats will travel to Center Grove in Greenwood for a battle with Jeffersonville (14-2) at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the first match. If the Cats defeat the Red Devils, they’ll play Saturday at 10 a.m. in a semifinal match, with a berth in the state championship bout on the line.

Even having just one player with state finals experience, Yarbrough feels the Wildcats’ confidence is peaking at the right time.

“I think we’re a little more established in the fact that we’re more confident in ourselves, even with a few newbies in the lineup,” Yarbrough said. “I think the teams we’ve beat recently have been talented and athletic enough, but we’ve been able to handle it pretty well.”

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